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Hindsight 20/20: Why Assess? Know What You Don’t Know

By: Constantine Noukas

Hindsight 20/20: Why Assess? Know What You Don’t Know


With the complexity of today’s information management (IM) landscape, many organizations jump to technology solutions in hopes of solving their challenges, or they are so overwhelmed they don’t know where to begin. We often hear, begin with the end in mind. Completing an information and systems architecture assessment, along with the identification of organizational risks and priorities, offer up a starting point to prioritize next steps in evolving an IM program to a desired future state.

Join us for Part 1 of a 4-Part Series, where Constantine Noukas, Senior Consultant, shares his insights and learnings from real-life experiences.

This webinar will cover:

  • The value of assessing where you are today and understanding where you want to be
  • How to define a path toward effective and sustainable information lifecycle management
  • The importance of a collaborative approach and executive sponsorship
Presentation Transcript

Hindsight 20/20: Why Assess? Know What You Don’t Know

Presented By Constantine Noukas


Today, what I’m going to be talking about is Why We Assess, we’re going to learn what assessments are, or why they’re important. Now through this, I just want to mention, I’m going to try to keep things light, maybe funny. And I know that I’m going to progressively talk faster and faster, but I will consciously try to slow myself down, so I don’t overwhelm you. Okay.

So, we titled this webinar, Hindsight 2020, because we continue to see companies that are often unsatisfied with their information management project initiatives. And they’re always having to look back for lessons learned. At Access Sciences, we wanted to share our lessons learned and best practices from our experiences, helping companies improve their information management landscapes.

When I hear, know what you don’t know, without the assess part, I think of somebody predicting the future or granting me wishes. Unfortunately, in the business world, without assessing your situation or current state, there is no magic lamp or crystal ball that can tell you what issues a company is facing.

Instead, if an assessment is performed, you can know what you don’t know by ingesting tons of data and information that you’re going to collect. You can then analyze that data and gain insights so that you can make conclusions to recommendations. I like to think of the movie The Matrix, big fan, Neo plugs into the matrix for the first time and that chair with the needle in the back of his neck. And he’s just immediately overwhelmed by the amount of information that he learns.

Assessments are kind of like that, they can discover unknown issues within a company, find improvements on existing processes, or if a company is in good shape, and they just want to see, how well are they doing against their competitors or industry standards, assessments are the perfect tool to do that.

As Mike mentioned, this webinar today is the first webinar of a four-part series that details steps to evolve an information management program to desired future state. Okay, we’re taking your IM program where you are now, everybody has room for improvement, and we’re going to try to make it better.

The theme of this series is begin with the end in mind because the time that it takes to overhaul one of these information management programs, or really make any process change or culture shift in the company, it’s not something that happens overnight. Any project takes time and the more time a project takes, it’s easier to lose sight of what the original objective was. So, each of the steps in front of you by itself could take a large amount of time.

So, it really helps to visualize your end goal in the beginning, so that you can define what success looks like early on. So, here’s an example, think about a long-term project that you were tasked with. So, let’s say a records manager at a company might be tasked with converting archive paper files. We all know what those are into digital. Okay, or if the record’s manager is quarantined working from home, like most of us right now. Maybe they decided to renovate the kitchen in their house.

Okay, so here’s the current kitchen of this record’s manager. Here’s the desired future state. Notice we have the end goal here. That’s because records managers are smart, sketches and blueprints are probably made, measurements taken. Everything was well thought out and methodical at the beginning of the project to not as he went along, what if you didn’t plan out everything ahead and he just wanted to wing it?

Maybe your kitchen will look something like this. You just start taking the cabinets off the walls. I would honestly just walk past this every day. And you know, just have a look of shame on my face as I carried Chick-fil-A into the next room. Would this renovation project ultimately be successful? I’m not sure, at this moment like I said, I would be overwhelmed personally. But maybe this is inspiring to some. But my point is that information management change, can kind of be the same if you start out gung-ho and enthusiastic, you’re eager to implement some new policy like 90-day retention policies on all emails.

It sounds really easy. There’s no pushback. Everybody agrees with you, there’s no delays, no natural disasters going on, no pandemics, everybody’s on board. Nothing can go wrong. So clearly, I’m joking. But even if you made meticulous plans and had everything documented, if you had the company wide support, there can still always be unforeseen roadblocks, that when you finish the project, you look back and say to yourself, “I really wish I knew, blank when I started,” things would have been so different if I had done XYZ. Or if the project goes terribly, you start asking yourself, what was I thinking? How did I veer so far off course?

So, the moral of this story is begin with the end in mind. If you want to get your information management program to the next level, this series Hindsight 2020 will cover things that we at Access Sciences have learned that we think are absolutely essential.

So, let’s start with the first step. This is what we’re going to be talking about today, assessing. How do you get from point A to point B? First, you have to know what point A and point B are. Which means you need to determine what your current state is and then you need to determine what your desired future state is. And then you can figure out a plan of how to reach that state. Because we’re using this IM program as an example, you may need a new technology or system. So, if that’s part of the answer for like that comes out of the assessment, step two would be to procure the correct technology or system. And it’s not whether this system fits your needs, but it also has to fit your budget and it has to fit your company culture.

For example, I’ve been called on to a SharePoint implementation project where the main problem the company was having was not with SharePoint functionality, because if you’ve worked with it, you know that SharePoint can do a lot of different things. But it was how SharePoint was configured to align with company culture. When I say company culture, I mean, people’s working styles, whether it’s what they do day-to-day, it might be at the department level. It’s how they do their work.

So, whether you choose the most expensive or the cheapest software, that still may not work for a particular company’s processes of how they work, one size does not fit all in this case. The next step after you procure a software would be to implement this shiny new ECM platform. So, what’s more important, buying the software, or setting it up and configuring it, perfect software will never be successful if it’s implemented poorly. And we all know that software isn’t perfect. However, a good implementation can overcome almost any software issue that you might encounter.

Finally, we have step four, change management. This is where we prepare and lead users into the realm of new processes, systems and change. Change can be and often is the scariest process for some people, even if it’s for the better, it’s an improvement. Many people are surprised how early in the process change management begins. What I mean by that is all four of these, they all overlap a little bit right, assess, procure, implement, manage, change, but each one is necessary in order to be successful.

So, I’m just covering the first part, assess today. But you don’t want to miss out on any other of these webinars. And we’ll have the dates at the end on each of them so that you can mark them down on your calendars. So, before we begin, I want to find more about you. I think, Shelley you’ll bring up a poll. Depending on your role, you may have a different perspective of what an assessment is, and the value gained by performing one. So, it’s important to acknowledge people’s goals are different within a company and one part of an assessment depending on who’s taking it or who’s participating in it the results might change so you want to always be aligned as possible.

So, I’m curious what type of role are you currently in? Are you an Information Management person? You work with records a lot, records managers, are you in IT? Are you general management or operations? Are you a consulting firm or something else? So, as I said, assessment can mean different things to different people, depending on what you do.

So, let’s kind of talk about what is an assessment. It would help if that came up. Assessments align with executive objectives, they identify and document the current state and desired future state, they analyze issues and risks and assessments deliver actionable information, and short and long term goals. Okay, that was a lot of words. Let’s make it more simple. What is an assessment? Really?

I use Reddit. And there is a, what I think is a fun subreddit called Explain Like I’m Five that’s dedicated to simplifying things and concepts. So, the previous slide for me even had a lot of bullet points. So maybe this is a little easier to grasp. There can be a lot of different types of assessments. I started from school, any industry there’s going to be an assessment for anything, self-evaluation, third party, depending on the company the outputs of an assessment might be different. But all assessments always follow these same three steps. How are you doing or how do you think you are doing? Because those two can often be different things? What are your benchmarks? What future state do you consider success?

With how are you doing this could be at the personal level, at the department level, the team level. This is your current state, how are your day-to-day operations going? When we talk about benchmarks, this could be other companies that are just like yours, competitors. It could be third party companies that perform many assessments, like Access Sciences.

Maturity models that you can find online, or even best practices based on market leaders. Things like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, or armor principles, those types of things could be benchmarks, if that’s what’s important to your company. Finally, what future state do you consider success? What’s your target? Would other people in your department, your coworkers, do they have the same goal or target as you? What about at the executive level? Are your goals attainable?

You have to ask yourself those things, if it’s realistic, or improbable. And that’s another one where you can ask, is it attainable versus do you think it’s attainable? Objective versus subjective? So, I have one more second poll here. Has your company ever had an assessment for form that you know of? And if you know, what were the results, if you can please share?

So yes, it went great, B is nope, or yes we had an assessment and we suck, it did not go well. C, it’s been difficult to get support. And D, we’re not sure of the value of an assessment. I want to quickly mention the differences between an internal versus a third-party assessment based on those polls, maybe the people that said we suck, that perhaps could have been an internal assessment, I don’t know. But sometimes, almost all the time, they do not go as well.

So, what main reason do companies choose to perform assessments internally, is to save money and that’s pretty obvious. The downside to performing an internal assessment is that you will not get an accurate representation of your current state. And let me explain why, whoever inside the company is giving the assessment, one or many of these scenarios might occur, the team performing the assessment might have competing political objectives with the employees that are being evaluated or spoken to.

The assessing team might be unapproachable, there might have been past personal or work conflicts. Employees might be afraid to speak up. They feel like it’s an audit when it’s not. They should be speaking their mind, but employees also could feel that whatever they say won’t matter and their perspective won’t be heard. Nobody cares what they think. These are all really common issues, what happens with when internal assessments are performed.

It could even be the assessment team itself might have some bias based on what their boss wants. For example, the CIO of a company could task the IT department with performing a companywide assessment. And this is no hate on any CIOs in the crowd or any IT people. But the CIO wants to improve processes, but they don’t want to spend money on new technology. That’s a really common problem. So, when the IT department meets with end users, there’s already a bias there. How IT asks questions to other employees is going to change, how IT listens to problems that employees have, they’re automatically going to steer the conversation away from, new technology is the solution for you.


So, there’s already a problem there, if it’s an internal assessment being performed. So, I have another example, a utilities company performed their own internal assessment, they were audited, and then find because they didn’t have good records keeping processes. The legal department didn’t want another failed audit, so they created an internal project and tasked their IT department to research and purchase new records management software.

IT chose one of the larger and more expensive Magic Quadrant systems based on their decision that it would work well for their department. And they also assumed that it would work well for all other departments, can you guess what happened? It’s not good. Legal, did not like the software and refused to work with it. They actually, this is a true story, they went out and bought their own software that was just specific to them. So, the people that started the project ended up not liking it.

And so not only was legal unhappy, but other departments, operations, accounting, they’re unsatisfied with the new software as well, because it didn’t fit their process. IT liked it though, right? So, is that a win? In this case Access Sciences was brought on to configure and implement this new system that they bought, finding common ground between departments, understanding the specific needs of the business, and then gaining a holistic view of how the company does their processes overall.

So, if you wanted to avoid performing an assessment completely, so that those crucial budget dollars can go toward your shiny new ECM implementation? Would you change your business processes to fit the tool you purchased? Or would you buy a versatile tool that can do a lot and configure it to fit your work processes? So, it’s kind of like a paradox? Do you make your work fit the tool or do you make the tool fit your work?

I have told clients this on multiple occasions, verbatim. “Hey, this tool was not designed for how you want to use it.” And their response has been, “Well, too bad because we already bought it. So, we’re stuck with it.” And all I have to say is fitting a square peg into a round hole is expensive.

Again, performing an internal assessment, this will save you some money versus going to a third party, but it will also cost you. I already spoke about the issues and risks of performing an internal assessment. If the results of that assessment portrayed your company in a much nicer current state than it actually was, if you’re that fictional IT group that the CIO mandated to go around if they came back and gave a pretty current state, the sugar coated results, it would cost a lot of money down the road to fix problems because big purchases and decisions that were based on those results that would directly be linked to the sugar coated assessment. Simply put, you cannot evaluate yourself as effectively as an external party.

I’m trying not to do shameless plugs, but Access Sciences we know a great deal about information management. But I do want to say even we use third parties to assess critical functions of our company outside of information management, like legal, accounting, marketing, because those areas are outside of our expertise.

When we’re performing an assessment of a company, we often recommend that they perform a self-assessment as well in tandem. And so, then the company can see how they align again the objective versus subjective. How do they think they’re doing versus actually how they’re doing? And that normally is an eye opener for companies.

What do you get out of assessment? Now that you know what an assessment is, I hope. Why assessments are important, let’s talk about the benefits of them. Assessments provide clearly defined goals for success. Identified common themes amongst departments, as well as high priority and high-risk items. Assessments give you a view of your current state, how you’re doing, the desired future state, where you want to be and then a GAP analysis of the difference.

Against supportive executive sponsorship that creates alignment across the company and finally, you’re going to get a roadmap, you get a path forward to the future of steps you can take to get to where you want to be. Without getting too meta, let’s assess if you need an assessment. Can you relate to any of these problems that have popped up on the screen, fear of being audited or find? You can’t find your information daily, you always have problems searching for stuff.

Your departments are too siloed, you’re not collaborative with your other departments or teams, there are too many systems to work in, there’s a lot of redundancies going around, maybe you know that change needs to be made. But you might not be in a position of power to create a change shift or maybe there’s so many different little puzzle pieces that have to be set up correctly that to move to start change, it’s overwhelming, you don’t even know where to start, you know what needs to happen first. There’s too many things, just too many things to trigger that.

These are all valid problems, but these might be generated by a user or department. And although their problems, they could also be symptoms of a much larger problem. So, as you can see, I took some of these same bullets, the bubbles from the last slide, and I’m going to add in showing how an assessment might uncover an overlying greater problem based on these current smaller problem’s symptoms. So, fear of being open to risk, not in compliance, that could be lack of system enforcement, if you have too many areas to work in that’s lack of integration, multiple sources of the truth, you’re missing a information architecture, systems that are unused and don’t solve any problems could be missing functionality, siloed departments create lack of collaboration.

Everything is locked down too much, your information is restricted. If we focus on this example, multiple sources of the truth, not knowing where your information is, this is a symptom of missing information architecture, which means the current system you have could lack an organized structure, it might not have a functioning taxonomy. You don’t have a working search, so you can’t find anything or maybe your search works, but none of your documents have applied metadata, right? None of your documents or OCR-ed, there could be numerous problems that sprout from just the simple problem of not knowing where your information is or how to access it.

So, this slide is just to note that sometimes the problems a user or a department are having might be addressed by discovering a greater companywide system, culture, or process problem. So, what are the components of an assessment. When we perform an assessment, first and foremost, it’s critical to gain executive support. And we’ll talk about each one of these little boxes in detail on the next slide.

Once we gain support from executives, we need to work with business stakeholders to determine who the right people are we need in order to assess the current state, and who could potentially shape and align the business to drive a new solution. Once we do that, we need to perform a review depending on the company, it could be people, processes, any existing documentation or systems to determine what’s currently in place, so that we can get a clear understanding of how technology would impact the business needs and processes.

Finally, we take all that information, and we analyze it so that we can evaluate the needs, identify pain points, and tailor a recommendation that works for that company. So, I’m going to talk about each one of these in a little more detail, starting with gaining executive support. So based on that earlier poll, if you don’t have executive support, any project initiative change that you want to happen, it’s not going to happen. That’s not the way the world works, I guess.

For example, if an assessment is performed across a company with let’s say, ten departments, and only three of these departments actively participate because management tells them, those requirement gathering sessions, they’re not a priority, the assessment is not going to get the essential coverage it needs. And ultimately, it’s going to be a giant waste of time. Right? You’re not going to really find out, out of those seven missing departments of what the problems are.

Also, records management may not be at the top of a sea levels executives priority list. Records used to be back-office processes that dealt with information that had to be stored and effort that’s no longer active, the picture of the boxes. Today, due to digital processes, the focus is much more on active content, the majority of which are records. So, a lot of stuff will sit, where you’re working today doesn’t have to be shipped off in a truck to a different facility or anything like that. Everyone in the C-suite is becoming more aware of how important this is, especially in government, the distinction between content and records is almost non-existent.

Everything could be confidential, classified and everything needs to be kept for a long time. Getting sea level support for an assessment is never easy, sometimes process improvement or efficiency metrics aren’t enough to sway them. So, what we found is that market best practices, principles like the Gartner’s, the armor principles, or even mitigating risk, depending on who that C-suite person is could bring the executives on board.

After we’ve gained executive support, we need to engage our stakeholders. So, engaging and aligning with stakeholders is an iterative, critical process. That’s why it’s kind of in the shape of a circle here. Because it’s going to go around over and over again. So, we start with what does success look like? What are the strategic initiatives? When you ask this question, you are capturing their vision and their strategy. Once these things are captured, you can prioritize what’s important to them. So, our approach will be tailored to the things that you heard and the success in the capture vision boxes.

Here’s an example of tailoring and approach, very simply two utilities companies. One has an automated AP invoice process that has thousands of invoices coming at each month. And it’s not efficient, this is critical for them to improve this to scan these invoices in, get them OCR-ed, it’s vital. For a similar company, they get the same amount of invoices but it’s not important to them, because they have that process under control. You know, there are already invoice processing gurus. So, our approach from one company to the next is going to be a lot different of what we’re prioritizing of what change need to happens first.

So, we’ve informed our approach to the end user sessions, the green box, we want to discover the state of the organization. Discovering means this is the going out and having the meetings with people finding out how they do business. And then we have the next two slides… Sorry, the boxes are the analysis component of the assessment. Now remember, this is iterative. So, it’s going to happen a few times of evaluating needs and pain points identify challenges and the path forward.

An example of identifying challenges could be things like, what keeps you awake at night or how does the inability to access your documents impact your team’s productivity? Maybe that’s what keeps you awake at night, your inability to access information. Now we’re going to perform a review of people processes and systems. This is the most time and labor-intensive part of the entire assessment process. So, I broke it into two pieces, the people processes review, and then the systems comes after that. So, when we perform these reviews, we’re going to get things like locations of data, records and information management documents, things like policies and procedures, documents, guidelines, anything that exists already that can help us, opportunities for improvement, what works well and what doesn’t. The business processes themselves. We give each a name and a description so that we can tie them together.

Maybe there are processes that aren’t needed or maybe there are crucial ones that don’t exist yet. Types of documents that they work with, these can be generated from those previously discovered business processes. Then we have the creators of content, who’s making all the documents, who’s consuming all the documents. All those things are important. Then we have the systems where you’re working. When we review a company system, we can find things like duplication or redundancies across different systems or within the same system, isolated silos between departments, deficiencies and GAPs between the systems and the users’ needs, and support for beating the organization’s goals.

The main question we ask is usually what lives where because you have to know where everything is. We can look at the usage of each system and determine is anything redundant or unused? Is one system being used for too many things? Is there information architecture present at all? You know, is there structure between the landscape and the data maps? That’s how we determine what lives where and we create a giant content map that shows lists and breakdown of the folder level, system level? The bulk of what is living in each spot.

Are there any previous requirements gathered already, maybe from a previous internal assessment that didn’t go well? Right, those documents still exist for reference, and it’s still useful to us. If one of these, or several of these repositories do not exist, you will find out later on that you do need them. So, all five of these are very important to have. So, we’ve aligned stakeholders, defined what success looks like, identified challenges, captured the vision and strategy. Now it’s time to take all of this information and make some sense of it.

Once we take all of these things in, now we’re going to create the outputs. What comes out of an assessment? Once we have performed an assessment, now we can provide the following. Because we understand the needs of the business, we can give them a GAP analysis, common themes, immediate opportunities, and a long-term roadmap. So let me show you examples of what each one of these looks like. Starting with a GAP analysis, a GAP analysis provides identified GAPs between the current and future states, where you are now versus where you want to be, factors that affect a user’s ability to get work done. For example, what impacts their productivity.

And then we have opportunities for improvement, and if you’ve never seen a GAP analysis before, I mean, even if you Google it, you can find tons of them out there. By identifying common themes, we can standardize different namings across different groups, classify users’ comments and recurring themes, address needs that affect the majority of the organization. When we have all three of those things, we’ll also notice that things like folder structure, pain points, priorities, those can be standardized as well, because people in two different departments, they might call the same thing, two different things we’ve noticed, right? People don’t always call the same thing. The same thing. There might be different names.

So, the standardization helps people understand that we’re talking about the same solution so that they don’t think, “Oh, this isn’t for me, because it’s not called a certain thing” So common themes are really useful when we’re addressing the needs of the organization as a whole. That way we capture, everyone knows that we’re talking about them when we provide these common themes.

And we have immediate opportunities. There’s always at least one elephant in the room, right? One large problem that we find a company is having, high risk items that have surfaced at the top, we prioritize quickly so that we mitigate risk across the company. The same goes for any easy fixes or what we call low hanging fruit. End users and teams love the quick wins, and it makes them more optimistic about process or system changes.

Finally, we prioritize our highest risk and highest priority items to ensure that problems are solved sooner than later. Finally, this is the roadmap. This is the path forward. A roadmap will provide a strategic overview of project elements and objectives it’s like it provides a company’s future processes improvements, quantifying potentially how long each item or deliverable will take to complete. It gives you the estimated scale of effort and it’s important to note it’s not a fixed timeframe.

It depends on how fast an organization wants to move, and how fast they want to prioritize their efforts. We’ve seen where companies want to perform an assessment and then once they get the results, they say, “Okay, yes, we need to change certain things, we need to buy the software,” maybe it’s out of budget right now, maybe we’re just we’re not at a point at the company where we can make this change. And we need to wait, maybe Q1 of next year, something like that. Which is totally fine.

Speaking about Q1, quarterly targets are a really good indicator of showing process improvement in ROI that’s more commonly found on a roadmap you won’t have a month or more specific than that. And usually at the beginning of the timeline of a roadmap, your quarterly targets are going to be very rigid. But then as the timeline moves further, further out into the future, maybe a year more specific milestones are just going to be estimated dates for completion, they are not going to tell you okay, this is set in stone, this has to be done. No, June 1st.

It could be further than that. It’s just a ballpark estimate. So, once we have those things, we have the roadmap, we have the common themes, how do we know that our information management lifecycle improvements are going to be successful? This ties back to who you ask, you’re going to get a different answer, which is why alignment is really important. So, at the executive level, we already know this, executives love a great ROI. You know, they just want to see the return on investment. That’s really it. They like a pretty excel sheet.

Stakeholders are most enthusiastic about the process improvements, okay, I used to have this process that took me days to complete, and now I can do it in an hour. That’s a huge win. Then assessments also provide metrics like user adoption, how many people are participating, the time saved? Oh, we can find our files now, everything. There are a lot of quick metrics wins that are tangible in terms of how long it takes to do or find something. And of course, avoiding audit or avoiding being fined is huge for some people like, if you don’t have to pay these fines. That’s a great thing.

So, I do have a final poll here, which of these assessment outcomes would you consider the greatest success? Would you prefer a great ROI department and companywide process improvements, being in compliance, not being fined or almost totally user adoption? Okay, so this is the conclusion. This is a pretty short assessment, I kind of flew through that one. Let me re-say these mantras to you, beginning with the end in mind. Assessments are a fantastic tool for evaluating your company, processes, identifying problems, giving clear solutions based on data, creating a path to improvement.

When you work backwards, you’re able to define your goals initially, so that you can set a path. Think of the kitchen example. If you just kind of wing it, and take your sink and take your refrigerator out of the wall. You won’t make progress like that, you have to kind of think ahead. Have your end goal in sight. So, once you know where you want to end, then you can define what success looks like okay.

So, that does it for assessments. If you want to learn more about the assessments that Access Sciences specifically has performed, the work that we’ve done for our clients, you can either screenshot this or we are providing the slide deck to you now, I think, if you want to view our website, it’s and then you should see a website somewhere to that with the green.

If you email me or – either of those. If you get in contact with us, we will be happy to talk to you more about things like what kind of questions that you would ask in an assessment, we can provide you with those. We have a lot of experts that I can put you in touch with.

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